While “doctrine” is a dirty word in some circles, there are times when I wonder if it’s become a bit of a cliché in some of ours. Many of us in the “new Calvinist/YRR/whatever-you-want-to-call-this” movement love to talk about the importance of sound doctrine and why it matters. We have systematic theologies and commentaries, apologetics books and cultural critiques. But sometimes we forget to talk about what doctrine does in the life of the church, practically.
In Sound Doctrine: How a Church Grows in the Love and Holiness of God, Bobby Jamieson doesn’t give us another book on why doctrine is important. Instead, he reminds us how orthodoxy leads to a healthy church—one committed to the fulfilling of the Great Commission in the spirit of the great commandments.
Sound Doctrine: For Life in—and the Life of—the Church
Jamieson, assistant editor of 9Marks and managing editor of the 9Marks Journal, hooked me the moment I read his definition of sound doctrine: “Sound doctrine is a summary of the Bible’s teaching that is both faithful to the Bible and useful for life” (17).
How many other clear and helpful definitions of sound doctrine have you encountered—definitions that balance knowledge and practice? We understand the first easily enough, but when we neglect the second we tend to get into trouble. Application testifies to how firmly we actually hold to our beliefs, confirming the genuineness of our convictions or betraying the hypocrisy of our hearts. For example, what effect does how we treat one another have on the outside world? Does it attract or repel? Do people look at our congregations and really see a group of believers committed to one another? We’ve all heard stories of ugly church splits, divisiveness, pride, and cliquishness that leave people saying, “If that’s what a church is, I’m out.”
This is what sound doctrine lived out protects us from. It brings about greater unity when handled humbly. It increases our awe of the Lord and grows us in personal and corporate holiness. It drives our witness before the watching world and increases our love for one another.
But understand: this isn’t terribly radical stuff when you think about it—it’s the basics of Christian discipleship (e.g., John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11-12). Jamieson writes:
Our churches should be characterized by a mutual love that extends to all those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and love, don’t forget, is fueled by sound doctrine. If bitterness, gossip, and slander are tearing your church apart, sound doctrine is one of the most necessary tools for sewing it back together. If rivalries and divisions are suffocating the church’s love, it needs to breathe anew the rich air of sound doctrine. In order to love the unlovely and to reconcile enemies, we must remember that God has done those very things for us in Christ. (71)
A church committed to faithful teaching—and equally committed to living out that teaching—can’t not be characterized by a supernatural love that surpasses all understanding.
I wonder if some of us have missed this point in our efforts to defend the truth from error. Particularly for those of us who live in our heads (like me), it’s easy to distill holding to sound doctrine to simply defending facts. And while it’s certainly no less than this defense, it’s clearly much, much more. We need to wholeheartedly affirm the truth of Christianity, remaining united around the gospel and “the doctrines that flow from and undergird the gospel” (81). And we need to live in light of that same truth.
Doctrine Is for Worship
The vapidity of our worship culture is a source of much consternation among conservative evangelicals. Puffy, fluffy songs that could as easily be about a girlfriend or boyfriend as about Jesus dominate the worship “set.” “Spirit keys” intrude on the pastoral prayer, leaving you feeling like you’re watching a special episode of Growing Pains rather than hearing the impassioned prayer of a shepherd for his flock.
All of this, of course, comes from a desire to create an experience—to engage the congregation in worship. In doing so, though, many resort to trying to “facilitate” (read: “manufacture”) an intense emotional experience. However, as Jamieson argues in what might be his strongest chapter, that approach misses the point of worship. Emotions are good things, but creating emotional experiences flips the object of the worship gathering from God to us.
If you really want to engage people, you need to infuse your worship with sound doctrine. “Sound doctrine teaches us to delight in God because it shows us how delightful God is,” Jamieson writes. “It holds before our eyes the perfections of his character, the abundance of his grace, and the majesty of his sovereign rule over all things” (85).
When I read this chapter, I wanted to cheer. (Regrettably I was on a plane and didn’t sense my seatmates would’ve appreciated it.) Jamieson nails the relationship between doctrine and corporate worship—that we should lose ourselves in worship, but not in squishy sentimentality. We’re to lose ourselves in awe of the God who is, who has called us to himself, and who saves and sanctifies us through his Word.
Benefit from This Book
Jamieson’s book is thoughtful, helpful, and packed full of wisdom. It succeeds in reminding us that sound doctrine truly is for all of life—and it’s a book you can’t easily walk away from without feeling at least a touch of conviction. Indeed, we all too easily take the implications of our doctrine for granted.
Read Sound Doctrine for your own well-being, work through it as a leadership team, and discuss it in your community groups. If you’re serious about helping others see doctrine as essential to all of life, this book is a great starting point.